Warm-Up Exercises: Don’t Skip

Our contributor—an experienced physical therapist—stresses the value of warm-up exercises before working out. The injury you prevent may be your own!

One of the most important components of working out is often the most overlooked: doing the proper warm-up exercises. Too many times I watch individuals walk into a gym, sit on a bench press machine, and start lifting four plates. Then they wonder why their shoulder is in pain three weeks later. This is the result of poor form or lack of a proper warm-up routine. Here, we’ll cover the reasons why a warm-up is necessary and how it benefits your workout routine.

Why Are Warm-Up Exercises Important?

Our muscles are like rubber bands that lengthen and shorten to move our bones through space. If a rubber band is tight or frozen, it’s much easier to snap or break. Likewise, if someone sits at a desk all day in one position, his or her muscles get tight and “cold.”

Attempting to quickly move a cold, tight muscle can lead to muscle strain or tears. But by completing a proper warm-up, you increase blood flow and oxygen to your working muscles. In addition, it raises your core temperature, making your muscles more pliable and decreasing the risk of injury.

Warm-Up Exercises, Step by Step

Think of your warm-up exercises in three phases:

WARM-UP EXERCISES, PHASE 1: Prime the Muscles with Foam Rolling
Foam rolling before a workout is a type of “self-massage” used to help release trigger points and myofascial restrictions in and surrounding the muscle.

All muscles have a thin layer of tissue called fascia that covers them and connects them to other structures within the body. When fascia becomes tight or restricted, it can cause poor movement patterns leading to injury. By using a foam roll, tennis ball, or roll stick to decrease the density of this tissue, you can help maintain normal range of motion and movement patterns.

When using the foam roll, gently sit on it and rock back and forth for approximately one minute. You may feel pressure or some pain when you hit trigger-point areas. When you find these areas, spend extra time on them in order to help “release” the tension.

Below are six examples of foam rolling exercises you can try before working out.

  • Hamstring Rolling
  • Quad Rolling
  • Glute Rolling
  • IT Band Rolling
  • Lat Rolling
  • Low Back Rolling

WARM-UP EXERCISES, PHASE 2: Dynamic Stretching to Lengthen Muscles
Dynamic stretching is the act of moving a muscle into a lengthened position and then contracting it. Dynamic stretching has been shown to help “activate” muscles and the nervous system, creating greater power outputs and decreasing the risk of acute injuries in sport.

Additionally, dynamic stretching helps improve proprioception, or the body’s ability to respond quickly to changes in the environment present during sport.

Below are four examples of dynamic stretches to complete before working out.

    • Knee-to-Chest
      1. Choose a distance of about 40 feet to walk or complete 20 reps in place.
      2. Pull your right knee to your chest and hold for a second.
      3. Place your right leg back down to the ground, and pull your left knee to your chest.
      4. Repeat this motion, alternating legs the full distance or in place for reps.
    • Foot-to-Butt
      1. Choose a distance of about 40 feet to walk or complete 20 reps in place.
      2. Pull your right foot to your butt and hold for a second.
      3. Place your right leg back down to the ground and pull your left foot to your butt.
      4. Repeat motion, alternating legs while walking the full distance or in place for reps.
    • Elbow-to-Instep
      1. Choose a distance of about 40 feet to walk or complete 10 reps in place.
      2. In standing, lunge forward to your right leg, maintain a 90 degree knee angle.
      3. Place your left hand on ground for balance, reach your right elbow to right foot.
      4. Repeat motion alternating legs while walking the full distance or in place for reps.
    • Inch-Worming
      1. Choose a distance of about 40 feet to walk or complete 10 reps in place.
      2. In standing, bend over reaching to toes and place both hands on the ground.
      3. Use your hands to walk out into a pushup position, then walk legs back to hands.
      4. Repeat motion, inchworming the full distance or in place for reps.

WARM-UP EXERCISES, PHASE 3: Specific Muscle Activation and Stabilization
When I used to train college athletes, they were always concerned with the amount of weight they were doing on squat, bench press, and deadlift. This created a huge problem because they neglected accessory exercises that train small muscle groups that surround and stabilize the joints. Because of this, many of the athletes experienced hip and shoulder impingement and low back issues. To combat this issue, I began coaching them to insert the accessory lifts during the warm-up, so they couldn’t skip them at the end of the workout.

Below are specific muscle group activation exercises you can use for an upper body, lower body, or core/back workout.

      • Upper Body Activation and Stabilization Exercises
        1. Prone Y’s: Lay face down, tuck your chin in, and place a towel under your forehead.
        2. Bring your arms overhead on the ground forming a “Y-shape” with your body.
        3. Pinch shoulder blades together, then lift your arms up with thumbs up to the sky.
        4. Repeat motion for 3 sets of 10 reps.
      • Prone T’s
        1. Lay face down, tuck your chin in, and place a towel under your forehead.
        2. Bring your arms out to the side on the ground, forming a “T-shape” with your body.
        3. Pinch your shoulder blades together, then lift your arms up with thumbs up to the sky.
        4. Repeat motion for 3 sets of 10 reps.
      • Prone W’s
        1. Lay face down, tuck your chin in, and place a towel under your forehead.
        2. Bring your arms out to your sides making a “W-shape.”
        3. Pinch shoulder blades together, then lift your arms up with thumbs up to the sky.
        4. Repeat motion for 3 sets of 10 reps.

LOWER-BODY ACTIVATION AND STABILIZATION EXERCISES

      • Glute Bridges
        1. Lay on your back and bend your knees up, placing your feet flat on the floor.
        2. Bring your arms out to your sides on the floor for support.
        3. Squeeze your butt cheeks together, then lift hips up toward ceiling.
        4. Repeat motion for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Clam Shells

        1. Lay on your side with a slight bend in your knees and your feet stacked.
        2. You can place a pillow or your arm under your head for support.
        3. Squeeze the top butt cheek while lifting your knee up like pages of a book.
        4. Repeat motion for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Side-Lying Hip Abduction
Lay on your side with a slight bend in your knees and your feet stacked.
You can place a pillow or your arm under your head for support.
Squeeze the top butt cheek while lifting your knee up like pages of a book.
Repeat motion for 3 sets of 10 reps.

Core/Back Activation and Stabilization Exercises
Front Plank
[Photo in the floor exercises folder]
Lay face down, tuck your chin in, pinch your shoulder blades back.
Walk your hands up onto your forearms and toes into the plank position.
Ensure that your belly button is pulled up toward your spine to stabilize your core.
Repeat motion for 3 sets of 30 seconds.

Side Plank
[Photo in the floor exercises folder]
Lay on your side with your knees bent and stacked.
Press up onto your forearm and stacked knees, pinch your shoulder blade back.
Ensure your belly button is pulled in and up toward your spine.
Repeat motion for 3 sets of 30 seconds.

Quadruped Alternating Arm/Leg Reaches
Get on the floor to your hands and knees.
Pull your belly button up toward your spine to stabilize your core.
Reach your right arm out in front and left leg back behind you, hold for 1 second.
Alternate to left arm and right leg, repeat motion for 3 sets of 10 reps each side.

Once you have completed these three phases of a warm-up, you’re ready to continue with core muscle group exercises such as squats, bench pressing, or deadlifts.

Tags , ,
Comments

Leave a Reply

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

×